(Greensboro) Former Vice President Joe Biden’s pick of Sen. Kamala Harris, the first Black woman and the first person of Asian descent to be nominated for high office by either major party, now signals that democratic forces can bring the immediate fascist onslaught led by Trump & Co. and the Republican Party to a halt.
It also means that Trump’s fascist counterattack will be more brutal, more calculating, more venomous, and more capable of lightning tactics of the kind that historians might someday call the Trump Blitzkrieg, his version of the “lightning war” Hitler unleashed when the Nazis invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Trump’s siege will look very different here and now, at home as well as abroad.
For these reasons we might take stock of what makes Trump a fascist dictator, why Biden’s pick of Harris will only heighten racial conflict in the final months of the electoral campaign, and why Kamala Harris is suddenly a historic person who may well carry the destiny of Black Americans – and all of us really – in her development as a political leader.
But what does this mean beyond the immediacy of the relief millions must feel today now that Biden picked a Black woman as his running mate? Since Tuesday’s announcement, I’ve been following the chatter on Facebook by young Black men and women who believe for countless reasons that it really doesn’t matter and they may not vote at all. She was a prosecutor who made life miserable for her own kind, locking them up and ruining their lives over marijuana. Some take a more serious view of Harris by hammering away at her slickness and the way she easily shifts with the wind.
And then there are people like me who believe she will never grasp what capitalism has done to her people from the first time a slave carrier arrived on our shores hundreds of years ago. And I’m not alone on this one. If America is on trial now as we are wont to think, so is capitalism and the moribund system it has become. On this point, Kamala doesn’t swing our way. But who knows what she might do when compelled to confront reality on its own terms, honestly, openly and willingly?
Weathering Storms in the Maelstrom
Since Trump escaped impeachment several months ago, he has only become more emboldened in promoting his sick and dangerous views on everything we read and hear about daily. And he seems to weather every storm more or less intact. Two weeks ago, it looked like his reelection campaign was finally in the shit can from his pathetic handling of the virus and disgusting personal stupidity that put him 14 points behind Biden in the polls. Then Congress fell into an impasse and failed to deliver what was needed for millions of people – the extension of unemployment relief – because Republicans made it impossible.
This is just what Trump needed, an opportunity to seize upon a moment of organized paralysis among governing elites in both parties, and to deliver for himself a plate of solutions that only create more legalized illegalities from the standpoint of what the Constitution and its operative provisions actually say and mean. Whether he succeeds or not, Trump has usurped the power of Congress and he knows it. This will only embolden him to chomp away as the demagogue. He’ll shred democracy from within like a cancer and recommend a special brand of linguistic and tactile distortions of reality. He has taken us well beyond the pale of decency now.
Though racist to the core himself, Trump cannot attack Harris as a Black woman. Not yet anyway. Until then he has Fox News to go below the gutter and conspire with the sewer rats. The success of his lightning war is dependent on favorable coverage from characters like Hannity. Listen to him yourself one night and you’ll hear him vilify Harris as a socialist opposed to the Second Amendment, religion, private insurance companies and, of course, private enterprise itself, because she like Biden is working for Bolshevik Bernie.
This is what a fascist dictator, peculiarly American in character personally and politically, looks like to us. The historian Federico Finchelstein’s new book, A Brief History of Fascist Lies (University of California Press: 2020) reveals this in great detail. In the midst of our deepening crisis, a pandemic out of control and responsible for the economic nosedive, the cruelty of working and functioning and dying with COVID-19 – in all this we see Trump the dictator, the tyrant, marching us toward fascism en toto.
As a dictator, we can say that Trump falls into a category of rulers whose origins date back to Greece in the sixth century B.C.E. Dictatorship emerged from developments within individual city-states like Athens during periods of economic growth. Why? Because expansion and empire-building created economic instability, widening the gap between wealth and poverty and political power between those few who prospered the most from empire and the far greater number victimized by it. New wealth created new economic opportunities that transferred political power from an aristocracy based on blood lines and title, to an oligarchy – rule of the few – whose fortunes were primarily commercial and arising from imperial growth.
T.A. Sinclair, in A History of Greek Political Thought (1951), writes that oligarchic rule ultimately brought political dysfunction to the point where the Greeks themselves wrote about the need for a return to “Good Order and Good Behavior.” Sinclair draws from the sources, writing: “Now the quickest way to secure good order has always been held to be the strong arm; and most of the Greek states were at one time or another ruled by a dictator or tyrant.” He goes on to say that the tyrant was “sometimes one who had risen to power by championing the poorer classes against a corrupt nobility, but his power was gained by force and maintained by force, so that corruption and deterioration almost inevitably followed.” A few lines later he adds:
But however well tyrants might rule, tyranny, with its implications of usurpation and violence, was never right and was not regarded as a political principle at all. Other forms of rule by one man, monarch or chief magistrate, find their place in political thought, but tyranny in the strict sense was at best a temporary expedient for securing order, a transitory and dearly-bought benefit. (p. 21)
We know from our own experience what it means to be ruled by an oligarchy. It was the reason for Occupy Wall Street in 2011. The oligarchs had long been brewing a general crisis from their financial rape of the productive economy. When the crisis again became acute in 2008-2009, Barack Obama took on some of the same hacks who had served George W. Bush before him. Together the Obama team skillfully saved Wall Street. Main Street never recovered from the Great Recession.
Then the unimaginable occurred. Donald Trump’s victory sent shock waves through the neoliberal order and opened the door to fascism, the blatant rule of finance capital itself. After three years of rising inequality and the steady dismantling of what remained of regulatory and responsible government, we are then hit with the ultimate capitalist-ecological nightmare, a pandemic we refuse to overcome because it will cost us too much in too many ways.
Biden’s Pick Ups the Ante to Trump & Co.
Joe Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as his running mate will crystalize political and ideological struggle and compel the fascist gang around Trump to raise the level of rhetoric and, quite plausibly, into more insidious plotting to get what it needs.
Trump made this clear not long after Tuesday’s announcement. In a rambling diatribe on “Hannity” Trump declared that Harris wants to raise taxes, take away your guns, cut the military and follow the lead of her fellow radical, Bolshevik Bernie who, according to the president, is really running the Democratic Party. If Biden is elected, Bernie’s plan for socialized medicine will ruin the insurance companies and the rest of us, too.
We must watch the dialectic at work as the political pace determined by pandemic and a general crisis of the whole economic and political system quickens toward November 3rd. The possibility of Kamala Harris ultimately as the first Black woman one breath away from the presidency, and then to run for the White House on the basis of her own merit, is a huge victory for African Americans, especially those who believe in their heart and soul, and for whatever reason, that they have revived our nation in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.
In so doing, Black Americans have always pushed us forward in the name of real progress: their revolutionary struggle to achieve what is rightly theirs, as it must be for all of us in the end, against a system that was founded on the basis of African American slave labor, is the real key to unlocking the American Dream.
It is in this enduring spirit that I admit I am stretching a vision I find compelling because of the alternative it presents to me in the midst of so much anxiety and dysfunction. Biden’s choice is on the one hand a victory for all Black Americans, and especially those in the South, who to my mind will always constitute a “a nation within the nation” rooted in what historically is known as the Black Belt. This was actually the position taken by the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) in the 1930s during the depression and the fight against homegrown fascism. I felt this as a reporter for The Carolina Peacemaker in the mid-1980s.
This is a different moment. What was once a revolutionary political stand in the 1930s would be anachronistic today. However, what was once valid politically in a moment of profound systemic crisis is today a far deeper spiritual leap forward. Even if we don’t feel it, the steady and resonant chant of freedom and equality by African Americans rising from the legacy of slavery is the bedrock of our politics and the key to our future.
Those of us on the Left who are left will remember the old line struggles we went round and round about without ever figuring out what we needed to do. Must we solve the problem of race first and then take on class struggle? Or is racism negated and transcended through the primacy of class struggle? Polemics never got us anywhere. But the desired outcome is set by objective conditions at any given moment and this one trumps all others because the severity of the crisis does, in fact, at this particular time, require more than polemics. It’s not enough to talk about fascism. We must know its history which, unfortunately, remains seminal and ongoing here and elsewhere in the world.
A Biden/Harris victory is not all we need to set us in the right direction. We will have to combat their desire to return us to neoliberal normalcy because capitalism is beyond repair and the decisive fascist turn with Trump is proof of that. There will be so much to do, or at least try to do, to create the socialist alternative in twenty-first century America which, I believe must be pursued according to what my friend Barbara Foley calls a “multi-racial, class-conscious praxis.” I will not destroy an exceptional theoretical construct by simplifying it.
For now, I find solace in the fact that millions of African Americans are lifting up their hearts in the face of violence, terror, and despair.